Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - March 22, 1995

Police sources say prominent figures at various Russian television networks have received death threats after giving evidence on the 1 March murder of television journalist Vladislav Listev, Interfax reported on 21 March. Listev was involved in the controversial restructuring of Ostankino Channel One and in implementing new advertising rules at Russian Public Television. Since Listev's murder, the lives of other Russian Public Television employees have been threatened, the police said. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

A Duma commission led by Yabloko Deputy Igor Yakovenko is studying proposals to end the "crisis" in Russian television, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 22 March. A movement to halt the controversial reorganization of Ostankino Channel One into Russian Public Television is gaining momentum. Under the restructuring plan, which Yeltsin decreed in November 1994, Ostankino would become a production company, while Russian Public Television would control all Channel One broadcasting. Yakovenko warned that Russian Public Television would only represent the interests of the government and the hand-picked corporations that were allowed to purchase 49% of the company's shares. He recommended that the old, state-run Ostankino company and Russian Public Television share programming on Channel One instead. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Alexei Ilyushenko, Russia's acting prosecutor-general, has asked the Duma for permission to take legal action against Sergei Mavrodi, president of the MMM investment company and a parliament member, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 March. Mavrodi is wanted on charges of tax evasion on the massive profits he made from the MMM pyramid investment scheme, which cheated thousands of Russians out of their savings. He was held in custody for several months in 1994 before winning election to the Duma in October, which gave him immunity from prosecution. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Nikolai Ryabov has been re-elected chairman of the Electoral Commission, Interfax reported on 21 March. In supporting his candidacy, commission member Yury Vedeneev described him as a "cunning Russian man who is building Russian statehood, sometimes quietly, sometimes with a push." Yeltsin originally appointed Ryabov to the office in October 1993. The commission will enforce the proposed electoral law which is still under discussion in the Federal Assembly. The Duma's version of the electoral law, adopted on 15 March, will require all parties to collect signatures, not just those which are not currently represented in the Duma as earlier reported. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The 22 March issue of Rossiiskaya gazeta carries an article arguing that Alexander Yakovlev's Party of Social Democracy is not the pro-presidential party many observers initially thought it to be. The article is particularly critical of the leader of the Moscow branch of the party, Yevgeny Savostyanov, who "is clearly not meant for a presidential party." The paper claims that he belongs, instead, in the Guinness Book of Records as the bureaucrat who was removed by the president in the shortest time. Rossiiskaya gazeta asserts that he is part of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's team and close to the Most bank, which was raided by the president's security service on 2 December. Yeltsin and Luzhkov have been engaged in a long-running feud which has prompted the mayor to threaten resignation. Moreover, the paper criticized the new party for not listing Russia's Democratic Choice among its potential allies. The reason apparently is that Oleg Boiko, who has strong ties to Russia's Choice, has business interests that compete with Most bank. The article described Boiko as an ally of Yeltsin and pointed out that although Russia's Democratic Choice has been critical of Yeltsin, many of its members still support him. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian Finance Ministry plans to halt the issuance of treasury bills by the end of the first quarter of 1996, Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov told the Financial Information Agency on 21 March. Panskov emphasized that the bills will be gradually withdrawn as the debts on them are repaid. According to Panskov, treasury bills serve as a "money surrogate" and are increasingly unprofitable for the state. Panskov stressed that his ministry will promote the circulation of stocks and state short-term bonds. Prior to this announcement, Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Kazmin told the Financial Information Agency that the ministry planned to issue 7 trillion rubles worth of treasury bills in 1995. The Russian government published a resolution on 9 August 1994 defining the main conditions for treasury bills. The bills were intended to serve as the government's main tool to solve non-payment crisis. The bills are widely used because owners are entitled to a number of tax privileges under existing legislation. Since last fall, the Finance Ministry has distributed treasury bills worth about 7 trillion rubles. About 3 trillion rubles worth of those bills have already been redeemed. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's 1995 budget, passed by the State Duma on 15 March, is currently under debate by the Federation Council which must give final approval before it becomes a law, Russian agencies reported on 21 March. According to Deputy Economy Minister Yakov Urinson, the heaviest criticism of the draft came from the Agrarian block ministers, who are pushing for more agriculture credits. Finance Minister Panskov rejected the Agrarian members' criticism that agriculture is underfinanced, noting that in the draft budget, agriculture has been allocated about 30% more than other industries. Meanwhile, Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin presented a draft economic program for 1995-97 to the Federation Council on 21 March. The program will be submitted to the Russian Federation Cabinet of Ministers in the Kremlin on 24 March. The program is designed to restore economic growth through financial stabilization. Yasin proposed direct stimulation of effective investments on the part of the state as the "buzzword" for the next three years. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Russian workers will go ahead with a 12 April nationwide day of protest against delays in wage payments, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 March. Noting that the government owes industrial, construction, and farm workers 5.6 trillion rubles ($1.2 billion) in back pay, Alexei Surikov, deputy chairman of the Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, said workers will picket government buildings across the country. The problem of late payments has been exacerbated by inflation, which means that salaries are worth much less by the time workers receive them. Surikov said that production in many regions has ground to a halt, while a union leader in the defense industry warned that Russia was on the verge of losing that industry altogether. A day of protest staged by unions on 27 October 1994 brought few results. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has expressed interest in signing a security pact with NATO, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told AFP on 21 March after their meeting. However, Kozyrev expressed concern that Russia has not been involved in the discussions on such a pact. In addition, he said he would like to see progress in four areas of Russia's relationship with NATO: an agreement on an overall European security architecture in which NATO has a place; a mechanism for joint consultation and decisions between Russia and NATO; military cooperation "so that nothing occurs that could worry the other side"; and "military-technical cooperation, interaction in the creation of armaments systems, and competition in armaments markets." If cooperation is achieved in those four areas, Kozyrev said, "We will have the feeling that NATO is not a hostile force from ideological, political, and military-technical positions, but a perfectly friendly force with which we can cooperate." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Speaking at the European Stability Pact Conference on 20 March, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev stressed the OSCE's central importance to the European security order. He said the arrangement reached between Russia and Latvia over military pensioners and the Russian radar station at Skrunda is probably the first time the OSCE has supported the implementation of bilateral agreements. According to Kozyrev, the fact that the pact will be "taken over by the OSCE" signifies that the organization has assumed its rightful place in Europe. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

In what Turkish authorities have described as the "largest" offensive ever undertaken in the history of the republic, some 35,000 troops advanced 40 kilometers into northern Iraq on 20 March in an attempt to "eliminate terrorist bases" of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) located there. International reaction to the operation has been divided. The European Union, France, Cyprus, and Norway have been critical. Russia, like the United States and Iran, have essentially endorsed it. On 21 March, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin said, "We are talking about a one-off action, limited in time and space, which has as its goal as the destruction of bases and strongholds of Kurdish extremists carrying out an armed struggle against Turkey . . . We consider it to be an internal affair of the states concerned," Reuters reported. It has appeared since mid-1993 that Russia was tacitly supporting the Kurdish separatists as a lever against Turkish support for various Turkic or Muslim groups dwelling in Russia. The Russian government's current position on the Kurds may signal that a quid pro quo has been reached. While a Chechen-Kurdish horse-trade is not inconceivable, it is likelier that both sides agreed to refrain from supporting separatist activities directed at the territorial integrity of the other state. Official casualty figures contrast sharply. A spokesman for Turkey's general staff said 24 terrorists and eight soldiers have died while Turkish Defense Minister Mehmet Golhan cited 200 terrorists dead and no Turkish losses. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

Olzhas Suleimenov, leader of the Kazakh Alternative Assembly, said the former deputies had officially ended their hunger strike and their occupation of the parliament building as of 21 March, AFP reported. Suleimenov went on to say, "We will reorganize ourselves into a public association, the People's Assembly, to prepare laws which we will submit to the president's experts." While never strong, support for the ex-deputies has diminished daily. Earlier, they demanded a meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbaev to request keeping their privileges--such as government cars and in some cases furnished apartments--until the next elections. In a poll conducted on 18 March, only 15.5% of Almaty residents said the Supreme Soviet should continue to work, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. -- Bruce Pannier and Bess Brown, OMRI, Inc.


Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev met with Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze and then with Georgian Defense Ministry officials in Tbilisi on 21 March, according to Interfax on 21 March and Krasnaya zvezda on 22 March. The talks focused on the terms of an agreement for the maintenance of three Russian military bases in Georgia, the creation of a Transcaucasus air defense system (despite the reluctance of Azerbaijan to participate), and the situation in Abkhazia. Grachev subsequently told journalists that both Russia and Georgia had recently made new (unspecified) proposals on a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. Meeting on 21 March, representatives of five opposition parties in the Georgian parliament denounced the talks as lacking legitimacy and called for the annulment of all agreements on military cooperation with Russia, including the base agreement, Interfax reported. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian parliament on 21 March adopted a resolution ordering the Crimean legislature to submit a new constitution by 15 May, Reuters and Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. Legislators, who annulled the existing Crimean constitution last week, also empowered prosecutors to act against Crimean legislation that may violate Ukrainian law. But they stopped short of giving Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma additional powers to impose limits on the authority of the Crimean government. Meanwhile, Crimean parliamentary speaker Serhii Tsekov said the Crimean Constitution will remain in effect until Crimean authorities decide how to respond to Kiev's move. In related news, Oleksander Razumkov, a top Kuchma aide, told Interfax that stability in Crimea could be promoted if the Ukrainian leadership gave clear guarantees on preserving the autonomy of the region and allowing Crimean authorities to make independent decisions on economic issues. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

During a visit to Abu-Dhabi beginning 20 March, Ukrainian Minister of Machine-Building, Conversion, and the Military-Industrial Complex Viktor Petrov signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates on economic, trade, and technical cooperation. At an exhibit of military hardware, Ukraine displayed its T-84 tank, which is produced in Kharkiv and reported to be superior to Russia's T-80. It hopes to sell the tank to Middle East customers as well as Pakistan and India. Aleksandr Kotyolkin, the head of Russia's largest arms exporting firm Rozvooruzheniya, said that the Ukrainian tank was of top quality but would have greater export potential if Kiev would allow Russia to participate in the project. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka, addressing the parliament on 21 March, called for the legislature to be disbanded and a referendum held on extending his powers and increasing integration with Russia, Belarusian radio reported. Deputies jeered at Lukashenka during his speech, while Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Mechyslau Hryb rejected the proposal to suspend the parliament and said a referendum was unnecessary. Lukashenka wants his powers extended so that he can dissolve the parliament. He criticized deputies for frequently not attending parliament sessions and obstructing economic reform. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The election of Reform Party deputy Toomas Savi as parliament chairman on 21 March has highlighted the failure of the Coalition Party and Rural Union (KMU) alliance to form a ruling coalition, BNS reported. The KMU voted for Rightist Party deputy Ulo Nugis, with whom it had forged an alliance. The KMU had also held unsuccessful coalition talks with the Reform Party, which joined the Center Party, the Moderates, and Pro Patria/National Independence Party Union to form a small coalition to elect Savi. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Seimas on 21 March voted by 46 to 35 with two abstentions to amend the law on the restoration of Church property, passed on 19 January, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reported. President Algirdas Brazauskas on 1 February sent the law back to the Seimas with suggested amendments. Many deputies of the ruling Lithuanian Democratic Labor said the amendments gave religious communities unwarranted privileges, while the opposition argued that they did not go far enough to restore the rights the Churches lost during the Soviet occupation. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Maj. Gen. Aleksander Einseln (Estonia), Col. Juris Dalbins (Latvia), and Gen. Jonas Andriskevicius met in Vilnius on 21-22 March, BNS reported. They discussed the creation of unified military communications and air space control systems, setting up the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion, exercise training, and participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. No date was set for the start up of the systems, which would require substantial government spending or foreign assistance. The commanders also visited units of the Lithuanian Voluntary Defense Service and the motorized infantry brigade Iron Wolf. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, responding to President Lech Walesa's ultimatum on 20 March giving the government two months to show results, said he intended to invite Walesa to present his ideas on how to solve Poland's problems, Rzeczspospolita reported. The government would offer a timetable of its plans within a week, Oleksy said. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko was more blunt, telling reporters that "the government is doing far more than Mr President." He added that "the government may have only two months but the president certainly has no more than seven" (a reference to upcoming presidential elections). Presidential spokesman Leszek Spalinski said such comments did not bode well for cooperation. But he also made a rare effort to tone down Walesa's initial criticism, arguing that the president's remarks were taken out of context. The government has not yet adopted a formal position on the Constitutional Tribunal's ruling on the 1995 tax rates, but public administration chief Marek Borowski estimated on 21 March that a Sejm decision to uphold the verdict would mean $770 million in lost revenues. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

An additional 15 million zloty ($6.4 million) has been allocated from general reserves to fight crime, Radio Warsaw reported on 21 March. Internal Affairs Minister Andrzej Milczanowski conceded that "mafia-like structures" were taking root in Poland and said the government will ask the Sejm to reconsider legislation allowing plea bargaining and permitting "sting" operations. The parliament rejected such proposals last year. Justice Minister Jerzy Jaskiernia said the government will ask that the maximum prison sentence be raised from 25 years to life imprisonment. Harsher punishments will be requested for attacks on judges and prosecutors, extortion, and robbery. Also, an armed court police will be formed. Coalition deputies pledged to consider the new legislation before the summer recess, while police unionists criticized the new funds as insufficient and said they will continue their month-old protest. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's popularity rating has continued to fall, according to a poll conducted by the Center for Empirical Research and published on 22 March. He is now only one point ahead of opposition leader Milos Zeman. Other government ministers also lost support in the poll. The biggest drop (eight points) was registered by Deputy Prime Minister Jan Kalvoda, head of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), which is embroiled in financial scandals. But the ODA's Vladimir Dlouhy, Minister for Trade and Industry, stayed at the top of the poll with an 85% rating, He was followed by Jiri Dienstbier of the extraparliament Free Democrats (76%), Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec (72%), Transport Minister Jan Strasky (59%), Klaus (56%), and Zeman (55%). -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

The Slovak government on 21 March approved its "clean hands" program, designed to fight corruption, Praca reports. The cabinet also dealt with programs to assist small and medium-size businesses as well as regions with high unemployment. The cabinet continued to boycott its traditional press conferences. Press officers from the Ministries of Interior and Economy reported on the government session instead of the ministers themselves. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Antonov-124 cargo jet detained in the Azores on 23 March because it was carrying arms rather than its declared cargo of medicine is from Ukraine, not Russia, as first reported. Reuters on 21 March said the Portuguese authorities released the aircraft to return to its country of origin but the pilot had not yet taken off because of problems in obtaining overflight clearances. The Czech news agency CTK reported that the plane was carrying arms from Slovakia bound for Ecuador. It quoted the chairman of the Slovak weapons export commission as saying the arms shipment to Ecuador had been properly licensed. Portuguese officials said the An-124 had taken off in Kiev and landed in Bratislava. From there, it flew to the Azores to refuel en route to South America. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

This is what Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic told AFP on 21 March to explain his government's fresh offensive against Serbian positions in the center and north of the republic. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic warned that the government must stop its attacks or face "consequences," the Los Angeles Times reports on 22 March. The New York Times and Vjesnik say that Serbs have reclaimed heavy weapons stored with the UN near Sarajevo. The French and British peacekeepers guarding the facilities did not resist. Also near the Bosnian capital, Serbs released a Russian UN military observer they have held since 18 March for spying. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The Croatian lower house, or Sabor, on 21 March discussed the recent decision by the government-run radio and television network (HTV) to end live coverage of parliament debates. Since the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) has a virtual monopoly on the electronic media and most of the press, the opposition has counted on the live sessions to make its views known. Hina said that some HDZ legislators would agree to live radio coverage and denied that their party was behind HTV's move. Also in Zagreb, nine Croats received Yad Vashem's Righteous Gentile medals for saving Jews during the Holocaust. Only 8,000 of Croatia's and Bosnia's 39,000 Jews survived the terror at the hands of the Nazis and the Croatian Ustasa regime. Some 50 Croats and Bosnians have received the Yad Vashem award to date, Western news agencies reported. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 22 March reports that opposition forces in the federal rump Yugoslav parliament have again called for the government, dominated by the Socialist Party of Serbia, to be disbanded. The opposition alleges that the SPS has violated the federal constitution through such acts as repressing the independent media. One opposition member was quoted as saying "The government must fall because the government's strangulation of [the once independent daily] Borba is a political attack on the independent media." Federal Premier Radoje Kontic rejected those charges. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Tens of thousands of workers rallied on 21 March in Bucharest to protest both unemployment and a government order that they claim is aimed at freezing wages at the November 1994 level. The rally, the third large workers' protest in Bucharest within a week, was organized by Romania's main trade unions. One of those unions, the National Trade Union Bloc, told the press that given the government's refusal to respond to the workers' demands, it will stage rallies on 22 March not only in the capital but also in many other Romanian cities. In other news, the Chamber of Deputies on 21 March voted 183 to 110 to approve the law on accelerating privatization, Radio Bucharest reported. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Radio Bucharest, citing the BBC, reported on 21 March that Moldovan students and university teachers from all institutes of higher education went on strike to protest the Ministry of Education's 16 March decision to replace courses on the history of the Romanian people with one on the history of Moldova. Reuters estimated the number of demonstrators at 10,000. The protesters also demanded higher wages and scholarships as well as the resignation of the minister of education. Citing Moldpres, Radio Bucharest said the Moldovan government discussed the situation. Deputy Prime Minister Grigore Ojog and Education Minister Petru Gaugaj met with representatives of the protesters, who demanded that the new law be abolished as a preliminary condition for starting negotiations. Reuters quoted Ojog as saying the protesters "were manipulated by certain political forces that do not want stability in our country." -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, commander of the Russian 14th Army in Moldova, told Interfax on 20 March that two trainloads of Russian military equipment left Rybnitsa, in northeastern Moldova, for Russia early this month. Lebed said the trains carried surplus equipment, noting that his forces had nine times as much as it could man and use. He added that 21 trainloads of equipment would have to be returned to Russia. Last month, military authorities said that more than 350,000 tons of equipment and ammunition would leave Moldova. The withdrawal was suspended while transit arrangements were made with Ukraine. Lebed emphasized that none of his troops were about to be pulled out. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

A "White Book on the Country's Situation," issued by the Bulgarian government on 21 March, says that GDP fell by 24.4% from 1989-1994 and industrial production by 49.3%, Duma reported the same day. Consumer prices soared by 3,700%, and some 73% of the population are living below the poverty line. The authors of the book ask all political forces to cooperate in order to resolve the critical situation. Deputy Prime Minister Doncho Konakchiev said the document was issued by the government and was not approved by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Standart reported on 22 March. Demokratsiya, however, accused the Socialists of trying to blame the Union of Democratic Forces for Bulgaria's problems. Former UDF Chairman Filip Dimitrov was cited by 24 chasa as saying that "this is exactly what one can expect from a communist government." -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Yuriy Borisov, chairman of the parliament Commission on Science and Education and a member of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, has proposed a change in the education law, 24 chasa reported on 21 March. The law lifts a ban on former communist academics from holding posts in governing bodies of universities, research institutes, and the Central Examination Board. It also stipulates that new elections to these bodies take place by 30 October. Borisov proposed eliminating this stipulation. The law was vetoed on 9 March by President Zhelyu Zhelev, who said it violates the autonomy of academic institutions. Also on 21 March, Zhelev vetoed a law on the environment, dpa reported the same day. The legislation provides for the construction of projects of "national importance" without consideration of environmental damage. Environmentalists fear this may lead to the construction of a second nuclear power plant near the town of Belene. Work on that project was halted in 1990 following pressure from the environmental group Ekoglasnost. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos on 21 March said that if Macedonia does not show "tangible signs" of goodwill, Greece will not lift the embargo, AFP reported the same day. He was quoted as saying that it is understandable that Skopje would like to have the embargo lifted--"just as it is evident that we would prefer not to have to deal with Skopje's provocations." Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias on 19 March announced that direct talks between the two countries will begin in April, but he said the embargo will remain in force during the talks. Macedonia on 20 March said it will take part in the discussions only if the embargo is lifted. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Greece has recalled a diplomat from Tirana who had pamphlets from the Northern Epirus Liberation Front (MAVI) inciting separatism for Albania's ethnic Greek minority, Reuters reported on 21 March. Greek embassy staff discovered the pamphlets shortly before Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias's visit to Albania on 13 and 14 March. Greek officials did not confirm whether there is a link between the diplomat and the seven armed MAVI members arrested near the Albanian border on 19 March. Greece police, meanwhile, are investigating whether the numbers on Kalashnikovs found in the MAVI members' car match those on weapons stolen during a MAVI-terrorist attack on an Albanian border camp in April 1994. Two Albanian soldiers were killed in that raid. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

President Sali Berisha has announced that the sentences of Nexhmije Hoxha, widow of the Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha, and Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano have been cut by two years, Reuters reported on 21 March. The move was part of an amnesty for 40 prisoners on the eve of the anniversary of Berisha's election victory, on 22 March 1992. Hoxha was sentenced to 12 years in prison for embezzlement, but her term was reduced by one-third in the fall of 1994. She now has to serve three years and four months. Nano will have to spend another four years and ten months in prison for abuse of office and misappropriating state funds. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave